The Lesson in the Lemon Tree

About a year ago, I inherited several citrus trees. Upon receiving this “gift,” I was told how easy it was to care for these potted dwarf trees. Their primary need was water, and even that was only once a week. It seemed easy enough. So I willingly committed to taking care of them.

At first, I was really diligent to water them weekly. Then I let two weeks go by, then three. Until finally I went to look at them only to discover they all were dead. Feeling horrible about my neglect, I decided I would try watering them anyway.

A week or so later, I confessed my failure to the trees’ original owner, who inspected them and concluded, just as I had, they were dead and not worth caring for any longer. To say I felt awful would be an understatement. I had been entrusted with these trees that had once been so important to him. And I had completely let him down.

Later that day, I went back to look at the dead trees, feeling hopeless about them and my life in general, when I saw something I hadn’t noticed earlier. There was a new leaf on one of the trees. Was there hope for these sickly trees? When I saw that solitary leaf, I was reminded of Job 14:7-9: “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant” (ESV).

There was hope–for the trees and my life! So I committed to watering them weekly. I’ve been much more faithful this time around, only missing a week here or there. I even harvested a lone lemon this winter. Now that we are into spring, almost every tree has buds forming, even the lime tree, which has yet to produce fruit. I’m believing that there will be a great harvest in our house come winter.

But I was reminded again today how easy it is to become complacent. Today is my “watering” day. I had been outside earlier, enjoying the sunshine and admiring the newly-formed buds, getting excited about all the fruit we will get to harvest. I later went inside and got comfortable. As the sun was waning in the sky, I knew I needed to get up and water. But I didn’t want to.

There was a battle in my mind. On the one hand, I wanted to stay in my nice warm spot. On the other hand, I wanted to someday savor the fruit of these trees. But I won’t be able to do that if I don’t invest in their care. And that means watering them even when I’m nice and cozy and not wanting to move.

I don’t know about you, but I see so many parallels to my life. So often I want fruit without discomforting myself. I want growth without any effort. But then I’m reminded of, if not a little chastised by Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (NIV).

There will always be that constant struggle between obedience and choosing the easiest, most comfortable path. It’s part of the sin nature. But if we want the fruit, we’ve got to make the investment of time and effort–and obedience–even if that means making ourselves uncomfortable.

So I finally decided to get up and water the trees. And you know what? When I was done, I found my spot was just as comfy and warm as when I left it. I don’t believe God calls us out of our comfort zone without providing His comfort to go with us.  After all, 2 Corinthians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (ESV, emphasis added).

So let’s be willing to get a little uncomfortable, trusting that God will provide all the comfort we need as we obey.

Roots and Rocks

Have you ever planted a garden? I have not! But I remember watching my grandmother turn a corner of our yard into a small vegetable garden.

One of the first things she had to do was get rid of what was already growing there–in this case grass (much to the chagrin of my father). I watched her mark out a space and begin to transform this once lush patch of grass into what looked like a barren wasteland. She turned up the soil. Dug up roots and rocks and left nothing but a bare spot in the corner of our yard.

But it didn’t stay that way for long. Soon we had a beautiful vegetable garden with the best-tasting green beans and tomatoes growing. It was amazing to see the transformation. But it all started with what looked like destruction, at the time.

Sometimes, I feel like that little vegetable garden is my life. God decided to take my life, which looked fine but wasn’t really functioning beyond aesthetics, and turn it into something fruitful. But sometimes the process feels devastating. Like that patch of dirt my grandmother was turning into a garden, there are roots and rocks that need to be dug up in my life in order for fruitfulness to take place. There are roots of bitterness, jealousy, and selfishness. Each one needs to be dug up and rooted out. There are rocks of hardheartedness and disobedience that need to be tossed away.

I like to think that I’ve accomplished a lot of growth in recent months. But then I’m confronted with an attitude or a thought, or even an action, I thought I had dug up a long time ago. Every time I discover one of those lovely remnants of what once grew in my “garden,” I’m reminded just how far I still have to go.

From time-to-time, I’ll pray Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (NLT). But if I’m being honest, I mean, really honest, I usually only pray it when I’m pretty sure God won’t have anything to point out. I pray it when I’m feeling pretty superior about this Christian-walk thing. But inevitably, God responds to my phony prayer with very real answers. He points out the hidden sin, the wrongly-adopted attitude or the unsubmitted area of my heart. He points out more roots and rocks.

You see, in order for a garden to continue to grow, there has to be maintenance. My grandmother spent a lot of time in that garden, even after the vegetables began to grow. She continued to pull up weeds and remove errant rocks. If she hadn’t, before long, the garden would have reverted back to a useless patch of dirt. That’s actually what happened. When she moved back to New York, no one took the time to keep up her garden. Eventually, it just became a dead patch of dirt where grass wouldn’t even grow.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” -Philippians 1:6 NLT

I don’t want that for my life. I don’t want the growth and fruitfulness God has brought to be lost because I’m unwilling to deal with the things He points out. And He doesn’t want that for me either. That’s why He continues to dig around in my life. Because whether I meant it when I prayed it or not, He intends to “lead me along the path of everlasting life,” for His name’s sake. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

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